Philip Kerr has left the literary world a parting gift that will not only resonate with longtime readers but should indoctrinate a new legion of fans to his Bernie Gunther detective series. Metropolis, the final novel Kerr wrote before his untimely death a year ago after a brief bout with cancer, takes readers back to Gunther’s origins.
Set between the world wars in 1928 Berlin, Germany, Gunther is just in his 20s when he is promoted from the ranks to the role of detective on the police department’s Murder Commission, or “murder wagon” as it is more colloquially known. As his commanding officer says, “Welcome to the Murder Commission, Gunther. The rest of your life just changed forever.”
The department is baffled over a series of slayings involving prostitutes in which the killer clubs the victims over the head with a ball hammer and then proceeds to scalp them with a very sharp knife. But just as Gunther begins his investigation, another series of slayings unfolds, this one involving disabled war veterans who are mercilessly gunned down and left for dead.
Sensing the crimes may have been perpetrated by the same individual—one crime to cover up the other by eliminating potential witnesses—Gunther, with the help of film makeup artist Brigette Mobling, dons a disguise as a wounded veteran himself to go deep undercover. With his superior officer the only other person in on the plan, Gunther is left to fend for himself in a city of prostitutes, drug dealers, street gangs, political activists and mobsters, not to mention a deranged serial killer.
Kerr treats his readers to a stark, unflinching look at life in Germany for many citizens still reeling from the effects of the prior war, crushing poverty and growing anti-Semitic bigotry in the years prior to Hitler’s ascension. His writing is crisp, highly detailed and beautifully rendered, immersing the reader as much in the adventure as Gunther immerses himself in his disguise.
Metropolis is an unforgettable tribute to both Kerr’s greatest detective and to the remarkable storyteller Kerr was.